Before Gordon the Alpaca came to our farm, we had been warned that he had not been handled a lot, and wasn’t a fan of the halter. But when we saw him haltered and walking on a lead in the breeder’s barn, he appeared a perfect gentleman, so we took a chance. He had such an adorable and expressive face and soft, springy fleece, how could we not?
As the herd settled into their new home, Gordon was always first in to investigate any new scene: the century-old barn, the run-in, the weather, the wandering farm cat, the food bowl. He NEVER missed a food bowl. In the almost eighteen months Gordon has been here on Hard Hill, he has added over twenty pounds to his compact frame, not all of which is fleece. These days we often call him “Gordito,” a Spanish term of endearment roughly meaning “little fat boy.” On her last farm visit, the veterinarian’s eyes widened when she saw him; “He got BIG,” she observed.
Alpacas, although curious by nature, are not known to be pleased by human touch, like a dog or cat. They are prey animals in the wild whose first instinct is to flee a stressful or dangerous situation. Not so our Gordon. He is the first outside when there’s a barnyard commotion, sniffing the air and humming his presence. Just a few days after their arrival, the herd had their first visitors — my best friend Jen and her then-four-year-old daughter. Gordon walked right up to the preschooler, bent down, and sniffed her thoughtfully. This simple act allayed our fears that Gordon was inherently aggressive. He likes everything and everyone, except the halter. Why?
As Gordon’s time with us continued and we struggled to halter, weigh, and give him necessary monthly injections, we realized that our charming marshmallow suffered from significant halter anxiety. When in the smaller pen we use for exams and health checks, Gordon paces and snorts, emits a continuing alarm hum, and tries to escape. He jumps and rams the fences and gates, and he kicks like a ninja. He has pulled the gates off their hinge pins, head butted me so hard it cut my chin, and rammed me into a metal gate with such force I needed x-rays. But he willingly eats grain out of hand, and gives kisses on human faces on command. Someone who heard about his negative antics suggested to us that the only good use for an alpaca like Gordon is as hamburger. We strongly disagree.
We have taught our Gordito to walk to and stand on the scale unhaltered, and to return to the corral from a front yard grazing when directed, with a little coaxing and a few handfuls of grain. We sought advice and handling tips from other alpaca owners, and have had more success getting that little purple halter on his fluffy, white face. As hard as it is to believe that he is overwrought with worry when acting out, and not simply in a homicidal rage, we keep trying. We remind him he is not the alpha male in the herd, and we need him to remind us that he is a beauty and a pleasure all but two or three hours per month. His fleece spins into gorgeous yarn, and he talks to me about his camelid day. Who could say good bye to that face?